BRATTLEBORO—In a year full of nontraditional candidates running for public office in Vermont, Nader Hashim stands out in many ways.
First off, he’s a Vermont State Trooper assigned to the Westminster barracks, a seven-year veteran of the state police.
He’s 29, a young man living in Dummerston with his daughter Rowen and a sleepy dog named Sam, making his first run for public office.
Born in Boston, he is son of two immigrants — his father is Egyptian and his mother is Iranian — who came to Massachusetts to go to college and fell in love.
And he has a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from Clark University.
It adds up to an interesting set of experiences and a diverse background for a candidate who is running for the Vermont House representing the Windham-4 district of Putney, Dummerston, and Westminster.
Hashim and Dummerston Town Moderator Cindy Jerome are running in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary for a seat in the two-member Windham-4 district.
Of the current seat holders, state Rep. David Deen, D-Westiminster, announced his retirement a few weeks ago and state Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, will be going for his sixth term in the House.
In a recent interview with The Commons, Hashim talked about how he hopes to be able to balance his law enforcement career with his political career, what drew him to Vermont, and some of the issues that motivated him to run.
Hashim admits there isn’t a precedent for a member of the Vermont State Police to serve in the Legislature.
“It hasn’t happened before and I haven’t heard of it either,” he said. “It definitely will present some challenges if I am elected.”
But he has since learned that all state employees are entitled to take unpaid leave to serve in the Legislature, and that the state Attorney General’s office says it doesn’t see any potential conflicts of interest between being a state trooper and being a legislator.
He said most of the people in the district he has spoken with believe he should stay, “because they appreciate my community-oriented policing. I enjoy the work I do.”
Hashim said that he grew up in a family with a history of military service and said that as a teen, he envisioned going into law enforcement or the military. At the same time, he also saw himself as a lawyer or college professor.
His teen years coincided with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington and the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hashim said he felt the sting of racial slurs and discrimination directed at him, his family, and others with Middle East and Arab backgrounds.
Hashim’s father came to the U.S. to study at MIT, while his mother left Iran just before the 1978 revolution. Their academic experiences also shaped him, he said.
Changing systemic racism in the criminal justice system, Hashim said, takes being part of the system to effect change from the inside.
“I’m not the type of person who thinks all the issues in our society come just from the police,” he said. “There are problems among the police, but likewise, there are problems among the prison-industrial complex, prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges, and so on. That’s why it’s called systemic racism. It’s spread out through the whole thing, and I figured that if there was one way I could make a difference, it would be by going into law enforcement.”
The needle and the damage done
In seven years as a state trooper, Hashim says he has seen up close what the opioid epidemic has done to Vermont communities.
He said he wants the pharmaceuticals companies to take more responsibility for having created the opioid crisis in the U.S. He also favors a community-level response to the crisis and treating it as a health problem, not a criminal justice problem.
“Reducing the stigma around drug addiction is important,” he said. “Many of the inmates in Vermont’s prisons are there because they have a substance abuse problem, and this is the only place they can get help.”
Stricter gun laws in Vermont are expected to be a hot-button issue statewide in this election season, but Hashim said he has heard very little from voters in his district.
In his candidate statement, he says that while he supports “reasonable, responsible, and safe gun ownership,” he also backs “laws and processes that will keep people safe, and guns out of the wrong hands.”
He sees his approach as a “middle of the road” view of firearms ownership in Vermont.
If there is a hot-button issue in Windham-4, particularly in Dummerston, it is the state’s desire to consolidate schools and school districts and shut down the small village schools that are such a big part of life in Vermont.
He admits he doesn’t have the same level of mastery on education, transportation, or environmental issues that he does with criminal justice issues, but he said he is determined to learn.
“As a father, I know how parents feel when they hear that change is coming to their child’s school,” he said. “I’m still trying to understand all the details and nuances of Act 46. It’s not an easy thing to understand.”
What he does understand — and disagrees with — is Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal to penalize school districts for having staffing levels deemed too high.
“It means they are willing to cut jobs such as janitors, secretaries, and paraeducators, and marginalizing these jobs is not in the best interest of our communities or our schools,” he said.
Young people in Vermont?
Hashim says he doesn’t buy into the conventional wisdom that young people are fleeing Vermont because of a lack of economic and social opportunities.
He said that his friends who live in southern New England want to come to Vermont to live for the same reasons that he came north — the natural beauty, the outdoor recreation opportunities, and the quality of life that makes it a good place to raise a family.
“Trying to find a way to settle in Vermont and get into the community is a challenge for young people,” he said. “They don’t know where to start. We need to do a better job in marketing ourselves.”
Keeping young Vermonters in the state is equally important, and he said that can be done with better access to job training and by attracting start-up businesses.
Preserving Vermont’s environment is also part of the package of ideas to attract new Vermonters and keep current residents.
“I want to live here until I am old and gray and I want my daughter to be able to enjoy the same things I was able to enjoy,” he said.